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Discover the secrets shared by Alexander Tullo on his filmmaking process.

How to make a successful short film by Academy Award Winner Alexander Tullo

We had a conversation with Alexander Tullo where he shared with us different aspects of his filmmaking process, and also delighted us with five tips on how to make a successful short film. Read it below:

Barking Orders was your first short film, and it was very successful! with it you were awarded the Student Oscar. It must have been a thrilling and unimaginable experience. Could you tell us more about your experience and what it was like when you got the news?
“It was thrilling, yes! It was during the pandemic when this happened, right at the height of it. I remember being very doubtful at every step. When I reached the semi-finals, I was floored that they would even consider me. Then when I reached the quarter-finals, I was positive this is as far as I’d go. Then finals, and I was so sure they must’ve gotten me this far as a joke. The Academy told me there was a routine check-in call to see how the finalists were holding up. It was during that call when they sprung on me that I had won. After all the excitement died down, it felt a bit empty. It was a zoom call. I’d receive the trophy in the mail (after about 8 months). That was it. No ceremony, no stage. I try to tell myself it wasn’t about all those superficial things, but it’s just to not let myself be sad about not having them.”
What was the process like of developing your first film, were there any adversities you faced that helped you on your following projects that you will always remember?
“The process my school had us go through to write our thesis was very unique. It was a 3 month endeavor, where the first 6 weeks were creating one story (including concept art, script, storyboards, pitches, etc) and the second 6 weeks were to create an entirely different pitch, with all the same materials. The faculty would choose for us which story to go with. My first pitch was a heartfelt, genuine, funny but touching story about a failed trapeze artist. It worked so well, that I wasn’t really putting much care into my second story. I did something dumb since I figured I’d use the first pitch. That second story became Barking Orders. Faculty ended up liking both stories, and told me to choose. I figured the first pitch to be something the Oscars might like; heartfelt and meaningful. Barking Orders was about as far from what the Oscars usually goes for as they come. But it made me laugh, so I chose it.”
You are currently working on a very challenging project, La maison des hirondelles, with filmmaker and composer Michael Chereau. Could you tell us a little bit about what we can expect to see from this project?
“I find that when people make animated films, they actively choose to hide real emotions like grief, forgiveness, and acceptance behind a metaphor, or a cast of furry characters. They dance around actual grounded emotions by sugar-coating them in a silly children’s movie. I’d like La Maison des Hirondelles to remind audiences that animated films can be unforgiving about reality, and show the joy and pain with the same directness that we expect from live-action filmmaking.”
Last but not least, could you share with us five tips for making a successful short film for filmmakers?
Here are some things I aim to achieve when making a short film. Make sure you have a simple and effective hook. Nobody wants to watch a movie about a guard and a dog and a montage and a plane crash and a… But if I say “the entire British royal family dies and the Queen’s dog is next in line for the throne”, that’s funny. I want to watch that. Stylization in animation is becoming very prevalent. After Spiderverse, everyone wants to make cool, stylized films. While it’s important to have appeal, always prioritize clarity. Being able to clearly understand the emotions of a character through the subtle nuances in the face should always be a priority. Don’t lock yourself into a classic 3-act story. I felt a need in college to be so bound to the traditional method of western storytelling because I was using animation. But storytelling can take any shape, and the pattern in which you pace your story can add incredible uniqueness. Think of the emotional journey like a wave. It can’t always be good, until it’s bad. Things go well, then they don’t, then they do. The corgi is about to press the button, the guard talks him down, he sits on it by accident. Having peaks of the highs and the lows keeps the audience entertained. Make a story that you enjoy. I could’ve gone with my first pitch of the trapeze artist because I thought it had a chance at the Oscars. But I went with Barking Orders because it made me laugh. Because I enjoyed working on it so much, that energy shined through in the end result, and others noticed that. Also one more: You’re not always going to like the story. Films can take years. At some point or another, you’re going to despise the film and the story and everything about it. You need to find small things, like lines of dialogue or acting moments or colors in a shot that make you happy or make you laugh. It’s those little things that will help you tolerate your projects. Thank you again to Alexander for sharing his time with us and giving us these incredible answers. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.